One of the things I love most about photographing birds is that I never really know what I'm going to see until later.
I love hummingbirds. To imagine the sheer mileage these tiny birds cover in their lifetimes always amazes me. They make my travel life seem mundane. To see one in January is always wonderful, which is what happens in California (unlike other parts of the US).
I saw this one on a morning hike near my hotel in Novato, California, and began taking photos. It wasn't until I downloaded them that I saw the little surprise. . . .
I have always thought of myself as a Great Blue Heron. Tall, gangly, all angles, prone to stare ceaselessly at something or someone that fascinates me, a water lover, mostly solitary, a flier of long distances, yet also a creature of habit.
I saw this Great Blue Heron at the Sea Ranch in Northern California in January 2017 during a break in a series of powerful storms that lashed the coast. As s/he stared at a prospective morsel in the marsh, I stared at him/her. We were aware of one another's presence, but respectfully and sweetly. We saw one another almost every day for two weeks. I certainly came to think of him/her as my friend. I hope s/he felt the same.
I love this photo. The powerful surf behind this beautiful bird that I have long considered my daemon or totem animal seems to capture the freedom and joy I always feel when in the presence of our winged friends.
Do you have a totem animal?
It's hard for me to pick just one John O'Donohue book to share, if you haven't read him or heard him speak. What a gift!
If you click the book link, it will take you to his website. There you can find all of his books, as well as a link to a wonderful interview with him about Beauty.
And here is one of his most beautiful prayers. Words for us all to live by and come to know:
May I have the courage today to live the life I would love ...to postpone my dream no longer. But do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more.
Well, I couldn't possibly begin sharing my book practice without Mary Oliver. When I was a kid, my dad taught me to love poetry by paying me a buck for every poem or Shakespeare soliloquy I memorized. I was a mercenary child. Since I only got a quarter a week for my allowance, I memorized with abandon. In the process, I fell in love with poetry. (Which was his devious plan, of course!)
Mary Oliver was not the first poet with whom I fell in love. That honor goes to Shakespeare, followed closely by Rainer Maria Rilke. But her poems have been the leitmotif of my life. As someone who tries to spend part of every day in nature, her evocation of the natural world as a kind of spiritual communion resonates for me in ways that nothing else has.
As a fellow peony lover, to find these words in her poem to my favorite flower stopped me in my tracks: Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
I try to -- every day.
Do you? Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
This is "my" Buddha -- created on an old piece of scrap metal by the artist David DeVary. But now it lives in the beautiful garden oasis of my dear dear friends Pamela & Todd.
I took this photo of it last August, and was so grateful to see this piece I have loved enshrined among so much floral beauty in a place of pure love.
The Buddha said, "The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?"
It a question we all need to remind ourselves to answer many many times a day -- as we practice joy, and choose compassion and love.
Since I'm in Savannah, Georgia, this morning, I thought I would write about one of the most memorable dishes of my adult life.
Growing up as I did, with two foodies parents who enjoyed eating incredible meals all over the world, I have had the good fortune of trying almost anything and everything I have every wanted to eat. Being a finicky eater, however, the places we ate were often more memorable than the food itself.
Although I love enjoying a good meal as much as the next person, but frankly it's rare for one dish to knock my socks off -- as this dish did the first time I had it on my first trip to Savannah almost a decade ago. First of all, it's a fish dish -- and with the exception of Wolfgang Puck's Whole Sizzling Catfish with Ginger and Ponzu sauce at Chinois on Main in the 1980s, I would be hard pressed to name one other singularly memorable fish dish in my entire life.
Until this Crispy Scored Flounder with Apricot Shallot Sauce at Garibaldi's and The Olde Pink House here in Savannah. Our host recommended that I order it, so, basically because I believe in When in Rome, I did. I was blown away. So much so that I have tried to have it every time I have come to Savannah -- and recommended that countless people have it when they come.
I could rave about the texture -- crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth tender on the inside -- or the glorious layered tastebud revelations of the sauce. But that wouldn't begin to do it justice. Since I think what I loved most was the joy-filled surprise of it all.
If joy is the pure and simple delight in being alive, then eating this dish reminded me of the pure and simple delight in discovering and sharing a glorious food experience. I have never forgotten that evening. I felt so purely and gratefully happy to be exactly where I was -- the company, the place, my first visit to SCAD (the incredible Savannah College of Art and Design) -- and the unexpected WOW! of this dish seemed to mirror that experience in a way that meals rarely do for me.
For me, at least, Joy when it comes to food is all about the experience of shared gratitude -- and I will forever be grateful for that evening and the manner in which this fish dish "mirrored" the joy of a wonderful experience.
OK. Let's be honest. Part of me just wants to write this post because I love the alliteration. Another part of me figures how often do you get to use the words fiddlehead fern in a sentence! But the fact of the matter is that fiddlehead ferns are delicious.
I discovered them last spring in Bar Harbor, Maine, at their local food coop. They were so cool looking, so I just had to try them. I asked someone who worked there how to cook them, and she suggested I saute them with a little garlic, olive oil and sea salt. So I did. OMG! They were fantastic! Crunchy with a slightly bitter (think asparagus or arugula -- which happen to be my two favorite vegetables) taste.
I am not sure that you can find them everywhere, but my guess is that anyone in the Northeast or Northwest can probably get them. If you can, do! And saute them up like the coop lady taught me, and prepare to be amazed.
Apparently their season is quite short. Once they turn into fronds, you can't eat them. But while you can get them, they are fantastic. And, of course, like anything this marvelous, they also happen to be incredibly good for you, as I discovered in this recent article.
So move over kale and broccoli -- two foods whose appeal I'm sorry to say is utterly lost on me -- and welcome fiddlehead ferns! I promise you that you will feel only joy eating them. Not only are they ridiculously cute, but they are absolutely delicious.
In fact, I think that we should create a new superfood group: Joyfoods. So stay tuned for my next joyfood post. And, in the meantime, please share your joyfoods with all of us! What foods bring you joy (without all that ridiculous guilt we are taught to have when we really enjoy something)? Because joy -- and so joyfoods, too -- is meant to be shared!!!
I remember the first time I saw and smelled lilacs. It was my freshman year of college and there was a long row of lilac bushes between the student union and the theatre department. I smelled them before I saw them. No matter how hard people try, no one seems to be able to capture the smell of lilacs in a fragrance. It's always too cloying. But on a bush, well, there are no words.
And then I discovered that they were purple -- my favorite color. I have ADORED lilacs with an unremitting passion ever since. These past two weeks I have been surrounded by the sight and smell of lilacs. They are, and will always be, pure joy to me! I cannot walk by a lilac bush without planting my face deep in their fragrant purpleness and inhaling until I get my fill.
Practicing joy during lilac season is about a foolproof as it gets. My whole heart smiles when I see lilacs.
What flowers fill you with pure joy?
My dad introduced me to rollie coasters and amusement parks when I was a little girl. It was one of our great shared joys. My dad was 67 years old when he made this documentary. He agreed to do it for one reason: Because it would allow him to ride all the best rollie coaster in America. How many 67-year-olds would do that? Let alone do it with GLEE?
My dad was one of the hardest workers I have ever known. But he never approached work with anything other than joy -- and he never approached life with anything less than a great sense of FUN!
Almost every spiritual teaching encourages us to approach life as a child with beginner's mind. What child does not know how to have FUN!
I still love riding rollie coasters, and I hope to keep riding them for as long as my dad did.
Do you love rollie coasters, too? Which are your favorites and why?
I spent all of last spring and summer on the East Coast, where I tried to hike as often as possible with my dog, Allie. I noticed that, more often than not, I ended up on rocky paths where the trails could only be marked in paint on trees or rocks. I also found that, more often than not, I ended up on the Blue Path. And finally, I realized that the Blue Path, the Rocky Path, was usually the most difficult path. Yet it was always the one to which I was drawn. In absolute joy!
Why is it that, in our joy pursuits, we take on difficulty as a welcome challenge, whereas in other areas of life, we feel burdened, put upon, perhaps even accursed, by difficulty? Instead, I have decided to treat every obstacle as an opportunity for growth and awakening.
I am seeing that it is not so much that I am choosing the Rocky Blue Path, but rather that the Rocky Blue Path is being chosen for me, because I am ready to face each obstacle and greet the opportunity for growth in grace and understanding and connection. That this, too -- or perhaps this, especially -- is one of the most essential of any Daily Practice of Joy!
I found this path in a nature preserve in Pittsburgh when I drove cross country for five weeks in the fall of 2014.
I have been there numerous times now -- in fall and summer. It is a magical place. But that first day was the most special. . .wide green swathes of dewy grass, deer peeking out from deep in the woods, the first touch of autumn on the hills, apples ripening on heavy-laden boughs, a cozy fog swaddling the hills, and chirruping birds everywhere. With not one other person there but me!!!!
I have taken so many beautiful pictures there. . .but this one was taken about fifteen minutes into my first visit -- at a moment of utter GLEE! I felt like a little girl who had discovered a secret garden full of magical animals, that I had entered the world I had been dreaming of finding my whole life. . .
What paths have opened up magical worlds for you?
My friend Alison and I were walking along New York City's Highline one late October morning when we saw a photographer taking a picture of these two men. We both had the same sweet thought. I'm wondering if you are, too, as you're reading this.
As I often do, I stopped and engaged them in conversation, and found out that, contrary to what Alison and I had imagined, they were having a photograph taken for their business: The two men are longtime business partners. I asked them if I could also take their photo, and they agreed.
I love this picture, because it reminds me of many joy-filled things. First of all, it is reminder that we all love to tell ourselves stories. That's not a bad thing -- but often the real story is far better than the one we make up in our minds. Because what I am reminded of when I look at this photo is that love comes in so many forms. We are a society that overvalues romantic love. And that makes us forget how vital it is to cultivate and cherish all kinds of love.
The Greeks had four distinct words for love: Agape. Eros. Philia. Storge. We focus so much on Eros (sexual, romantic love) that we forget that love takes many forms -- compassion, lovingkindness, affection, empathy, the unconditional love of a parent (or a Divine Parent) for their children, friendship, loyalty, community, charity, goodwill, partnership, collaboration.
It is only by nurturing and expressing all of these kinds of love -- and more -- that we show up to our own lives and those of others, and so to that of the Universe. To find love in every nook and cranny of our lives is the essence of any Daily Practice of Joy -- in work, in play, in our animals, in nature, in our business partnerships, and our family life, and in our beloveds. I am so grateful for this sweet exchange of love that I got to witness and now carry with me in my own heart.
Every so often you have one of those days that -- against all odds -- turns out to be pure joy. My Sunday afternoon visit to Leiper's Fork, a small village about 40 minutes south of downtown Nashville, was one of those days.
First of all, the drive there is gorgeous. Particularly if you're a horse lover like me. Rolling hills, beautiful homes, big barns, and white picket fences with green fields dotted with beautiful horses. It was a true old-fashioned Sunday drive.
I arrived in Leiper's Fork about 2:30 PM on a sunny spring day in March. In my mind, I thought I was going to find some artisanal cafes, but what I found was a BBQ joint in front of which was parked just about every motorcycle in Central Tennessee. I was starving, so I asked a couple of guys where to order. When they told me to go inside, I realized that I had Allie, my dog, with me and she probably wouldn't be welcome. So, they offered to hold her for me.
I went in and ordered, and when I came out, my fluffy white dog Allie was happy as a clam with her two new biker friends. So I joined the three of them, and we all had a lovely 45 minute lunch together chatting about Nashville, politics, construction, road trips, and dogs. We had the nicest time.
After I'd had a little sustenance, I headed out to explore the town, which turned out to be filled with cool boutiques and lifestyle stores. I stumbled upon a small store tucked behind another one, and when I went in it was packed with women and kids chatting. So I looked around and found the cutest pink and blue faded plaid shirt for $28!
When I went to check out, all the ladies turned to me and started asking me questions about Allie, who is my joy ambassador. When I told them that we were on the road from New Mexico on a two-year walkabout of intentional homelessness, the owner exclaimed, "Well bless your heart. I think I need to give you a hug." So she did, followed by all the other ladies in the store. It was the most awesome group hug I have ever had.
We all stayed and chatted some more, before I headed out to wander some more. Leiper's Fork was definitely a sweet little town. But far far sweeter were its people. The memory of my new biker friends and those ladies who gave me that huge hug -- on a day I needed it more than I can express -- will keep Leiper's Fork in my Joy Scrapbook forever.
So, if you happen to go to Nashville, make time to go to Leiper's Fork and get to know its people. It is one of the most joy-filled places I have been to in a very very long time!
My adult life has been a long journey of forgiveness with my mother. I know my mother loved me and did everything she knew to do to provide me with every advantage. And I loved her. It's just that some of her messages landed in ways that have been harder to erase than I might have imagined. But the last year has given me so much release and healing with my mother. These days, all I feel is gratitude and love for her.
There have been so many breakthroughs in our journey together, but one came this winter, when I spent two weeks watching storm after storm pound the Northern California coast in a place my mother loved as much as any in the world -- the Sea Ranch.
My mother always used to tell me that she adored watched waves crest and crash -- and that the moment of translucence just before the waves roll was her favorite moment. I spent 12 days watching for that moment -- and trying to capture it on film. It was like spending 12 perfect days in a conversation with my mother about beauty. It made me realize even more just how grateful I am to her for all of the things we have in common -- our love of nature, animals, beauty, exploration, learning, culture, and Spirit.
So much has been written about the healing power of forgiveness, but at the end of the day it's simple: Forgiveness only loves. To see my mother through the eyes of forgiveness -- for us both -- is exactly like that beautiful cresting moment of the wave: Before it crashes down upon itself and rolls back into the ocean, it is clear, translucent, pure and powerful. Just like Love.
The practice of forgiveness is rightly regarded as one of the most essential spiritual practices there is. When we come from a place of gratitude and forgiveness, we cannot help but feel joy and love.
Man has always dreamed of flying. Socrates said, "Man must rise above the Earth — to the top of the atmosphere and beyond — for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives."
Yet the story of Icarus, the youth who created wings that allowed him to fly, is remembered as a morality tale of hubris -- what happens when someone tries to fly too close to the sun.
The first aviators were awed by the experience of flying. Charles Lindbergh wrote, "Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see …" But now we remember Lindbergh much as we think of Icarus -- for his hubris and not his courage in facing the unknown and doing what no one else had done.
This week, we all read about the United Airlines debacle. But the fact of the matter is that flying these days is often fraught with fear and frustration. So, whenever I fly, I view every experience as holy.
As I rise above solid ground, I begin to pray to feel the awe and beauty and grace and joy of being in the clouds and the infinite blue. I pray to hold everyone on my flight and those on the ground connected to my flight in love -- and to see us all as expressing the same divine qualities.
As a result, I have had some of the most extraordinary spiritual experiences on airplanes instead of churches. Profound conversations, connections, and communion with fellow travelers. The utter awe of feeling one with the Universe in its immense infinite beauty and wonder. The gratitude for all that flight expresses -- joy, freedom, movement.
Sometimes I have had to face down fears -- of unruly passengers, mechanical delays, poor weather, turbulence, unexpected maneuvers, or just the pounding of my own heart and the chatterbox monkey of fear in my mind. But those experiences have provided me with some of the purest and most healing moments of my life. When the illusion of control is removed, we have to do what otherwise we mostly only give lip service to doing. Let go and let God. If the flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals were built to help conveys the souls of worshippers up to heaven, what better place to feel divinely uplifted than in a plane?
My friends like to tease me because I love planes and flight in such a childlike way. I always have. I even have an app on my phone that lets me look up a plane flying overhead and see where it is coming from and where it is going. I feel such joy imagining that journey. And I try to send that joy to anyone on that flight who might be feeling something other than joy for any reason.
These days, it is easy to dis or even fear flight. But I prefer to think of flying as time with my better angels. Because, as Mark Twain wrote, "The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be? — it is the same the angels breathe."